American Reportedly Sat Passengers Together On Empty Flight

American Airlines has recently come under fire for its handling of social distancing precautions in the face of the coronavirus epidemic. Reports suggest that the airline crammed passengers together in economy class, choosing to bypass social distancing guidelines rather than offering class upgrades. But should these stories be believed?

American Airlines in Washington
American Airlines has come under fire for its reported handling of social distancing on its flights. Photo: Getty Images

It may seem like too little, too late, but social distancing is one of our most formidable tools in the ongoing fight against coronavirus. Countries around the world are promoting a lack of physical contact and increased distance between strangers as one of the most fundamental precautions we should be taking.

Whether it’s in the supermarket or at the doctor’s, keeping at least one meter of distance between yourself and others is now becoming second nature to most people. But recent reports suggest that American Airlines’ approach towards promoting social distancing on its flights is somewhat lacking.

Reports of passengers crammed into economy class

As discussed by One Mile At A Time, a number of reports have appeared over the past couple of weeks which suggest that American Airlines has been sitting passengers close together on its flights. Under current social distancing guidelines, people should keep as far away from one another as possible while in public.

American Airlines Boeing 787
American Airlines has implemented a number of coronavirus-related precautions on its flights. Photo: LoadedAaron via Flickr

Airports and passenger aircraft are perhaps even more of a hotbed for germs and possible transmission of coronavirus than anywhere else. As a result, passengers should, in theory, be sat as far away from each other as possible to reduce the risk of transmission.

In reality, this would most likely mean rearranging passengers once everyone has boarded the aircraft. Because demand for tickets is so low at the moment, it’s very unlikely any commercial passenger flight will be flying near capacity for the foreseeable future.

Mother Jones published an anonymous account given by an American Airlines flight attendant of a flight where 11 passengers were all seated in the last three rows of the aircraft. According to this anonymous source, passengers aboard the 24 March flight were seated like this because seating them elsewhere on the aircraft would mean offering free upgrades.

A reliable source?

The likelihood of this account actually representing reality has been called into question for a couple of reasons. American Airlines highlighted its current coronavirus-related precautions and service changes in response to Simple Flying’s request for comment on the issue.

American Airlines Boeing Airbus A330
Current passenger numbers are just a fraction of what they were before the pandemic hit. Photo: Russell Lee via Wikimedia Commons

At the moment, American Airlines has specifically said it is allowing passengers to transfer seats, as long as they are in the same cabin. The airline is also blocking 50% of standard middle seats on all its flights to ensure there is as much space between passengers as possible.

Given the fact that economy class seats make up the majority of seats on almost all flights, there appears to be no realistic reason why American Airlines flights would seat passengers in the back three rows only. It seems much more likely that the anonymous source quoted by Mother Jones was embellishing the truth at a time when stories about airlines behaving badly will catch people’s attention